The Hodgepodge: Country Music After The Mainstream Bubble Pops

After the mainstream country music bubble popping, the genre could finally rebuild and go back to it’s roots.

Last week in The Hodgepodge I laid out a prediction that mainstream country music’s bubble was about to burst. This week I want to further clarify what I mean and what I think country music would look like as a result. If you haven’t read last week’s Hodgepodge yet, you’ll want to read it before reading this piece. This is basically part two. What I mean by bubble bursting is that I think country music will cease to exist in the mainstream realm. I believe what’s been done to country music in the past few years, as well as right now is irreversibly damaging the format beyond repair as a mainstream genre. The big awards shows will disappear slowly, along with country radio stations. The amount of big labels will shrink and there will be more independent artists. This isn’t me predicting that country music will have another neo-traditional like renaissance or an outlaw movement. Essentially I’m predicting a country music apocalypse. I’m predicting the death of mainstream country music if they continue down the path they are on.

I think I got the point across now. So what would country music be like post-apocalypse? Well for starters lets take a look at the biggest names in country music. With the genre no longer a cash cow, no longer having a big radio presence and being relegated to second-tier status, I see many artists going to the pop realm. Florida Georgia Line, Luke Bryan, Sam Hunt, Miranda Lambert, Blake Shelton and Jason Aldean would all go pop for example. They won’t find near the success they had in country music, but they can remain in the spotlight and are certainly willing to kowtow to whatever the popular sound is. Some of the bigger country artists I could see going to the rock scene. Brantley Gilbert could easily fit into the rock scene, as well as Eric Church. Their current sound has a lot of rock influences.

In post-death of mainstream country music, I think you would see a lot of lesser known acts fade into obscurity. Groups like Lady Antebellum and Thompson Square wouldn’t stand a chance in this new world of country music. Neither would bro country stars like Chase Rice, Cole Swindell and Thomas Rhett. They no longer have any kind of radio presence nor huge appeal, so there’s no longer a reason sites like mine would need to cover them. Only the best would get covered. Speaking of the best artists like Tim McGraw, Dierks Bentley and Kacey Musgraves could all put forth their best country albums possible. No longer would they have to answer to labels wanting a radio hit. They can make the exact music they would want to make. No more fad or trend chasing.

This leads me to the independent country artists, Americana artists who make country music and older country legends still making music. They would benefit the most out of all of this happening because now they’re on more equal ground with the likes of the biggest names in country music. The battleground is no longer on the radio. It’s on the Internet, where all media is competing now. The two key aspects to your music being heard would be quality and promotion. The latter is something that is really key because many country artists struggle to have a great online presence. Whoever can nail both of those two key aspects would not only be the most covered, but the most popular. Country music would finally be judged in the most just way possible. It would encourage artists to put out the best country music possible and establishing a dedicated fan base would be of the utmost importance. See why I think independent country artists would benefit the most?

Ultimately I think country music fans would benefit greatly too. Many of you reading this are already taking to the Internet to find country music. Your habits and listening wouldn’t change much, if at all. If anything you’ll have more fellow people joining you in toasting the best of country music. Sites like mine could take the time we spent talking about the junk in the mainstream and use it to find more unknown country acts who deserve to be heard. I enjoy writing reviews on an act that deserves to be heard and doesn’t have a huge following more than some terrible, fad chasing mainstream country single. They say it’s always darkest before the dawn and I think that would be the case here. Country music needs to die as a mainstream format if it ever wants to fix itself and be country music again.

In this scenario the best artists would become the face of the genre. The likes of Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell, Wade Bowen, Brandy Clark, Kacey Musgraves and others would lead country music like they should be now. Together these great artists could re-build the genre into what it once was in its heyday and continue it on for future generations in the manner it should be. This would take years to happen, but it’s something that must happen. If anything we should all be cheering for this to happen because everyone in the end would benefit. Well except for those fringe artists I mentioned, but that’s their own doing. Nevertheless I think the death of country music as a mainstream format would be the drastic change needed to save this genre. It would be painful to watch and tumultuous at times, but from the ashes country music would rise again reborn in its rightful image. In the words of founding father Patrick Henry, “give me liberty or give me death.” Country music isn’t going to give us liberty. So I guess there’s only one other option.

(Note: This is all pure speculation on my part and I could easily be wrong. Country music always seems to pull a rabbit out of its hat just at the right moment. But I do think this is a real possibility and I wanted to fully explore it. Who doesn’t like to explore hypothetic scenarios?)

Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases

  • The long-awaited debut album of Chris Stapleton will finally be released next Tuesday. The album called Traveller, is currently streaming on NPR if you want to get an early listen before the release date. We’ll definitely have a review on it next week.
  • Shelby Lynne, sister of fellow alt country artist Allison Moorer, will release a new album next Monday titled I Can’t Imagine. If it’s anywhere close to Moorer’s album in terms of quality we’re in for a real treat.
  • Jason Michael Carroll will release his first new album in four years next Tuesday. It’s titled What Color Is Your Sky. The former Arista Nashville artist is hoping this album will launch him back into mainstream conscious. I’m curious to hear what he’s come up with.
  • Randy Houser has released the first single from his new upcoming album and it’s called “We Went.” You can currently stream the song on Rolling Stone if you want to give it a listen. Ryan is writing a review on this one.
  • Right now at Brandy Clark’s website if you sign up for her newsletter you get a free download of her new song “I Cried.” How great of a deal is this? If you’re a fan of Clark or free music head on over and sign up.
  • The eagerly anticipated sophomore album release from Kacey Musgraves has finally been announced. It’s called Pageant Material and will come out on June 9. This is definitely one of the more fascinating and interesting releases in mainstream country music this year, as her debut album won her a lot of hardware and praise from critics and fans alike.
  • More great news! Lindi Ortega’s new album is coming out on August 7 and it’s called Faded Gloryville. I’m definitely excited about this one and will provide more details about it as they become available.

Throwback Thursday Song

Jamey Johnson – “The Last Cowboy” – This feels like an appropriate one for this week’s Hodgepodge. Also I listened to some of Johnson’s catalog to wash the new Zac Brown Band album out of my head. I’m still salty and it’s going to take me a while to get over it. Arrgh! Also I’m looking forward to hearing Jamey’s new album, whenever it may come out.

Non-Country Album of the Week

Let’s talk about a great album, shall we? Like Lord Huron’s new album Strange Trails. If you’re into Springsteen type rock music, you’ll love this album. It also reminds me a lot of The War on Drugs’ album last year, except this album doesn’t have five different songs over seven minutes. There’s also some country influences on the album, most notably on “Hurricane.” I think a lot of you would like it and it’s worth checking out.

Tweet of the Week

Amen Reginald.

An iTunes Review That Will Make You Face Palm

Fuck You Hunt Fans

Cobra brought to my attention this ridiculous review left under Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen’s fantastic new album. Now you know why I say so many terrible things about Hunt and his fans. It’s idiotic, trolling comments like this (and the horrific music of course). But hey Hunt fans might get their wish if my above prediction comes true. They’ll kill country music in the mainstream. But you’ll never take away great artists like Bowen and Rogers.

That’s it for the Hodgepodge this week! Be sure to sound off in the comments! 

Album Review – Reba’s ‘Love Somebody’

Reba Cover

Reba, arguably the most powerful female voice in the country music genre, has released her twenty-seventh studio album, “Love Somebody.” On this past week’s Billboard Country Update (4/20/15), Reba’s first single, “Going Out Like That” sits at #31 on the country airplay chart. Although women are relatively scarce in today’s country radio climate, Reba is a legend in her own right and won’t be ignored as she has a consistent fan base. “Love Somebody,” essentially is the theme of the album as each song is about love in some way. From the upbeat songs like “Going Out Like That” and “Until They Don’t Love You” to the sentimental ballads like “Just Like Them Horses,” this album has a song for every emotion.

The album opens with the current single, “Going Out Like That.” This song is a great introduction into the album as it sets a tone for what’s to come. Although much of the album is ballad heavy, there are songs like “Going Out Like That” on this album. The auto tune is somewhat audible to my ears throughout this song but I don’t think it takes away from Reba’s voice. Reba and her team made the right choice when pushing this as the single because it’s an uptempo song that will connect with country radio listeners. This song leans on the “pop” side in terms of instrumentation and country radio is in this phase as we speak. There’s nothing magnificent here lyrically, but it’s a good opener to the album.

The next song, “Enough,” is a power ballad with two strong female voices: Reba and Jennifer Nettles. Nettles is a strong vocalist who didn’t see much success with her debut solo album. I feel like “Enough” could fare well on country radio with Jennifer’s name attached to the song. The reason her solo album didn’t do much on country radio was because it didn’t sound like anything being played on country radio. “Enough” is just a beautiful song, lyrically, emotionally, and instrumentally. After two relatively strong songs, “She Got Drunk Last Night,” although not a favorite track of mine, is instrumentally and vocally, beautiful. I didn’t enjoy the song because I felt like the story had been used before. Reba’s voice really shines on this track and I enjoy it well enough.

The next song, “Livin’ Ain’t Killed Me Yet,” is a high-energy song about overcoming all the obstacles that are experienced throughout a lifetime. It’s a different side to Reba as much of the songs before this were ballads. Reba’s vocals are spot on in this song and I believe this song could make a dent on the charts if it were released as a single. “That’s When I Knew” is one of my favorite tracks on the album. It’s a beautifully sung ballad. It’s as simple as that. The story being told in this song is so heartbreaking and just beautifully crafted. I think that’s why I enjoy this song so much. “I’ll Go On” is another strong ballad. Its lyrics are simple, but it sells heartbreak with Reba’s vocals. She’s so emotive and that’s hard to achieve especially when country radio is the total opposite during today’s time.

“Until They Don’t Love You” has to be a single at some point. This song is sassy and Reba’s voice is perfect for this song. I really enjoyed the originality in the lyrics (A-B-C-D, 1-2-3-4) and the instrumentation really matched the amount of sass in this song. This is a song I can hear on country radio and jamming to with the windows rolled down. It’s fun and catchy. “Promise Me Love” is another ballad that I would label as a favorite. It’s more upbeat than the previous ballads. I would really love this to be a single but I’m not sure it’d be successful on country radio. That’s a shame because it’s a beautifully sung ballad and the instrumentation is surprisingly upbeat for a ballad. The next song is “Just Like Them Horses.” This is the song that Reba sang at her fathers funeral. What a beautiful song…lyrically and vocally. I can’t imagine how a live performance of this song would affect other’s emotions because hearing this song gives me goosebumps. It’s well-written and Reba’s voice makes this song so emotive and heart wrenching.

“Love Somebody,” is the title track and it’s a co-write with Sam Hunt, Shane McAnally, and Josh Osbourne. Hunt is going to catch some listener’s eyes but make no mistake, this song is a great addition to the album. It’s upbeat and catchy. The instrumentation is incredibly contemporary and this song would make a great single at some point. Reba’s voice shines here as she has to hit her upper register at points in the song. It’s not a lyrical masterpiece but it’s better than most songs on Hunt’s debut album. “Love Land” is a song originally sung by Martina McBride. Listening to both songs side-by-side, you may not notice a difference. I didn’t either until I realized Reba was singing this song in third-person. McBride’s version was sung in first-person. Reba’s vocals are tremendous here and I kind of wish the album ended here because the next song is kind of the “dud” of the bunch. “Pray for Peace” is the last song and I don’t really know why they included this song on the album. It’s literally the same line being recited over and over again. The only good thing about this song is the instrumentation. Did you hear the bagpipes? It’s definitely something absent from country radio which makes it a unique song, but it’s just kind of there for me and doesn’t really have a message that had an immediate impact.

Although this album was ballad heavy, I hope listeners take the time to listen closely to the lyrics because this album is lyrically, a masterpiece, in my opinion. There are some amazing tracks on this album and I can only hope Reba finds some success on country radio.

Grade: 9/10

Please listen to the album below and respond with your feedback! I’d love to hear from you!

The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Music [May 9]

Each week I take a look the Billboard Country Airplay chart and grade the top 30 songs. The grading format I use each week is every song will receive either a +1, -1 or a 0. These will then be tallied up for an overall score, or pulse of the current top thirty country songs, with the highest possible score being a +30 and the lowest possible score being a -30. How do I determine if a song is rated a +1, -1 or 0? The rating it received on the site or myself will determine this. If it hasn’t been rated yet, then I will make the call. Songs rated between 7 and 10 receive a +1. Songs rated between 5 and 6.5 receive a 0. Songs rated 4.5 or lower receive a -1.

The goal of this exercise is to evaluate the current state of mainstream country music and determine if it’s improving or getting worse. Let’s take a look at this week’s top thirty…    

  1. Dierks Bentley – “Say You Do” +1 (Up 1)
  2. Lee Brice – “Drinking Class” +1 (Up 2)
  3. Keith Urban & Eric Church – “Raise ‘Em Up” (Up 2)
  4. Tyler Farr – “A Guy Walks Into A Bar” +1 (Up 2)
  5. Sam Hunt – “Take Your Time”  -1 (Down 4)
  6. Billy Currington – “Don’t It” -1 (Up 1)
  7. A Thousand Horses – “Smoke” (Up 1)
  8. Florida Georgia Line – “Sippin’ On Fire”  -1 (Up 1)
  9. Zac Brown Band – “Homegrown” +1 (Down 6)
  10. Kenny Chesney & Grace Potter – “Wild Child” +1 
  11. Tim McGraw & Catherine Dunn – “Diamond Rings and Old Barstools” +1 
  12. Easton Corbin – “Baby Be My Love Song” -1 
  13. Carrie Underwood – “Little Toy Guns” +1 
  14. Kelsea Ballerini – “Love Me Like You Mean It” -1 (Up 2)
  15. Brad Paisley – “Crushin’ It” -1 
  16. Eric Paslay – “She Don’t Love You” +1 (Down 2)
  17. Canaan Smith – “Love You Like That” -1 
  18. Blake Shelton – “Sangria” -1 (Up 3)
  19. Little Big Town – “Girl Crush” +1 
  20. Frankie Ballard – “Young & Crazy” 
  21. Brantley Gilbert – “One Hell of an Amen” 0 (Up 1)
  22. Jason Aldean – “Tonight Looks Good On You” -1 (Up 2)
  23. Michael Ray – “Kiss You In The Morning” -1 
  24. Miranda Lambert – “Little Red Wagon” -1 (Down 6)
  25. Luke Bryan – “Games” -1 (Up 2)
  26. Gloriana – “Trouble” (Down 1)
  27. Eric Church – “Like A Wrecking Ball” -1 (Down 1)
  28. Dustin Lynch – “Hell of a Night” -1 
  29. Rascal Flatts – “Riot”
  30. Zac Brown Band – “Loving You Easy” (New to Top 30)

Maddie & Tae’s “Fly” falls from #30 to out of the top 30 (#31) this week.

The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Music: -5

The pulse drops to -5 this week from -4 from last week. There was only one song that fell out of the top 30 this week after four dropped out last week. The lone song was Maddie & Tae’s “Fly,” which had just made the top 30 last week. With the news that their album is being pushed back from June all the way to August 28 and “Fly” floundering, they’re probably gearing up to release a new single. Hopefully it’s “Sierra,” which should have the second single. I guess I was wrong in my optimism that they were going to give “Fly” one last push. The song that replaces it and lowered the pulse is Zac Brown Band’s new single “Loving You Easy.” While I enjoy the instrumentation of this song, the lyrics are boring and not very memorable. But it was the most added song of the week and had the most increased audience of course.

Dierks Bentley’s “Say You Do” is this week’s new #1 song, knocking off Sam Hunt’s “Take Your Time.” This wasn’t a surprise. What was a surprise is Lee Brice’s “Drinking Class” giving it a run for the money. It fell short, but should be next week’s #1 song. Other than Brown and Hunt’s dwindling singles, the other songs behind Brice in the top 10 should all get a turn at the top spot. None of them really excite me that much. Then again that pretty much describes my feelings about all of country radio right now.

The biggest gainers this week were Blake Shelton’s “Sangria,” which moved up three spots to #18 and six other songs moved up two spots (Brice,Urban/Church, Farr, Ballerini, Aldean and Bryan). The biggest losers this week were Zac Brown Band’s “Homegrown,” which fell six spots to #9, Miranda Lambert’s “Little Red Wagon” fell six spots to #24 and Sam Hunt’s “Take Your Time” fell four spots to #5. As for songs I see leaving the top 30 soon, the three losers I just mentioned should all leave the top 30 soon. They all have new singles coming out or in the case of Zac Brown Band already have a hot single in the top 30. Eric Paslay and “She Don’t Love You” is also poised to fall out of the top 30 quite soon. It did the best it could in this toxic radio environment. I think Gloriana’s single is also in trouble. Get it? I know that was a low hanging pun…

None of the four songs I predicted would make the top 30 soon last week made it this week. As for this week, the songs outside the top 30 I expect to see in the top 30 soon are Brett Eldredge’s “Lose My Mind,” Thomas Rhett’s “Crash and Burn,” Reba’s “Going Out Like That” and Lady Antebellum’s “Long Stretch of Love.” Eldredge’s new single is already at #34 on its debut, almost making as big of an impact as Zac Brown Band’s new single. Radio loves Eldredge too. I think it has something to do with his eyes. Rhett is poised to plague the airwaves all summer with the annoying “Crash and Burn.” You know I don’t like Reba’s new single, although her new album has some really nice single choices I wouldn’t mind. Lady Antebellum will make it to the top 30 by process of elimination. With country radio going into the summer stretch, my confidence in it is at an all-time low. You can thank Zac Brown Band’s new disappointing album and the glut of terrible songs rising up the chart for my attitude. My advice is to just keep the radio off all summer or at least keep it off the mainstream country stations. If you’re one of the lucky ones who has a Red Dirt/Texas station, just tune into that all summer (jealous!). As for me, I’ll stick with my music library.

As always be sure to weigh in on this week’s chart in the comments below.

Album Review – Zac Brown Band’s Experimental ‘Jekyll + Hyde’ Is All Over The Place

ZBB Jekyll + Hyde

Complex. Diverse. Different. These are the words that most aptly describe the new album, Jekyll + Hyde, from Zac Brown Band. Never before have I heard a country album so diverse in sound. Thankfully it came early in the mail for me, which allowed me extra time to wrap my head around it. If I had to wait until today to hear, you probably wouldn’t have read this review until next week. I’m not going to waste time on an intro and jump right in, as this is the longest review I’ve ever written on Country Perspective (I probably could have written even more). I will say this before I begin: this is most difficult review I’ve ever taken on, for many different reasons. So grab a drink and sit in a comfy chair as I take you through this album.

This wild album begins with “Beautiful Drug,” where right away you hear something you thought you never would from Zac Brown Band. They’ve gone electric, as this is a straight up folktronica song. The song itself is about being in love with a girl. While these electronic sounds are upbeat and fun, what is the point of this? There was no reason for Zac Brown Band to do this other than chase radio play. While it will be a fun song to play this upcoming summer, nobody is going to remember it. Next is their new single, “Loving You Easy.” It’s again a song about being in love with a girl. Once again it’s also a new sound for the band, as it’s decidedly a Motown/country fusion. The instrumentation is upbeat and fun. The fiddle play throughout is nice too. But these lyrics are straight up fluff and in no way original. I can see why this is a single.

“Remedy” has the classic Zac Brown Band sound for the most part. Brown co-wrote this with Americana artist Keb Mo, Niko Moon and Wyatt Durrette. It’s a song about loving each other and how it’s the remedy to solving problems in the world. It’s a nice sentiment, but the opening lyrics are a tad hypocritical after hearing the first two songs. The opening lyrics:

I’ve been looking for a sound

That makes my heart sing

Been looking for a melody

That makes the church bells ring

Not looking for the fame

Or the fortune it might bring

In love, in music, in life

With the first three albums this seems to be true. But when you’re adding Motown and folktronica sounds to your arsenal on a country album I find this hard to believe. You’re admitting that you’re chasing trends, which leads to fame and fortune with these types of songs. Just thought I would point this out. I know they’ve been upfront about not being your prototypical country band, but this is still labeled a country album. The drums and gospel choir at the end of the song are also unnecessary, but don’t hurt the song too much.

I already discussed the lead single, “Homegrown,” which is one of the best tracks on the album. Check out my full review of that if you missed it. Moving on, the band tackles another completely new sound in “Mango Tree.” Err rather I should say Zac Brown, as the band feels completely missing on this song. This is a straight up big band song from the Sinatra era, which is cool and weird. Brown duets in the song with Sara Bareilles, a talented pop artist who has a great voice, as the song is pulled off well by the duo. It’s a good song, but why is it on the album? This will be okay if it stays an album cut I guess, but with the inclusion of Bareilles I don’t think this will be the case. Like I said this is a good song, but it doesn’t belong on this album and it doesn’t belong on country radio. The winding shifts of sounds in this album continues, as “Heavy Is The Head” is next. It’s a hard rock song and it’s the current #1 song on the Billboard Rock Airplay chart. Brown is joined on the song by Chris Cornell of Soundgarden. It isn’t very surprising that Brown can pull off rock music, as the band has balanced between country music and southern fried rock their whole career. Once again though I feel like the band is missing and it’s a Brown solo project. This is another song while good, does not belong on the album. It would’ve fit in much better on The Grohl Sessions, Vol. 1 EP.

Finally the group delivers a beautiful song that showcases their great talent in “Bittersweet.” It’s one of the best written songs on the album, as it’s about a man losing his wife to a disease and how he’s reflecting on the fact that tomorrow she won’t be there with him. The songwriting evokes great emotion in the listener and might even bring a tear to your eye. The instrumentation is equally good and I love the guitar and fiddles crashing in at the end of the song to really punctuate the song. This is the Zac Brown Band I know and love on this song. “Castaway” is a beach song and I don’t think I have to say anymore about what this song is about. I’ve said before that I feel Zac Brown Band pulls off these types of songs better than about anyone else out there, with maybe the exception of Jimmy Buffett. The instrumentation is a great blend of reggae and country. In addition Brown has enough charisma to make the song likable. But a part of me feels like the Zac Brown Band has outgrown this music. This song is also a perfect example of why some people can’t take them seriously. You’ll either love this song or hate it, depending on your outlook on beach songs.

Once again the group dives into folktronica on “Tomorrow Never Comes.” There’s also an acoustic version of the song at the end of the album. Listeners are going to automatically compare the two, but before I do I want to talk about the song itself. It’s pretty good and can paint of a variety of different images in the listeners’ heads. It has no specific theme, leaving the listener to decide. I enjoy these types of songs, as music is a subjective art. As for what version I think is better, it’s easily the acoustic version. While they pull off folktronica better on this song than on “Beautiful Drug,” it still feels too noisy and uncharacteristic of the group. The acoustic version is beautiful and maybe my favorite song on the album. It shouldn’t be the acoustic version. It should be the only version. There should never be an acoustic version of a song on a Zac Brown Band album, as acoustic is Zac Brown Band. They gave folktronica a shot, but ultimately I feel they should stay away from it. All country artists should stay away and leave it to the likes of Avicii in pop music.

“One Day” is the group’s spin on the R&B/funk influenced country. This is another song that is closer to the band’s true sound, as the R&B influence naturally blends with it. It’s a pleasant song about love, which at this point is starting to become a bit tiresome. This isn’t the great songwriting we’re used to hearing from Brown and the band. It might make for decent single on radio, but it’s honestly not very memorable. One of the first three songs released on the album, “Dress Blues,” is next. This Jason Isbell-penned song is the best on Jekyll + Hyde because of course it is. It’s a hauntingly beautiful song about the harsh reality of sending young soldiers to fight wars. I give kudos to Zac Brown Band for covering such a brilliant song and giving Isbell much deserved exposure (and some nice royalty checks). By the way if you’re wondering who the woman on backing vocals is, that’s the one and only Jewel. I thought she sounded pretty good. I enjoy both versions of the song, but if you must know which I prefer it’s Isbell’s version.

On “Young And Wild” I think I’m the most baffled at the production. There are production issues throughout this album, but it’s at its worst on this song. There are so many unnecessary sounds thrown in that bring the song down and make it hard to enjoy. This is on co-producer Jay Joyce, who I’m going to rant about here in a minute. The lyrics are once again too fluffy for my liking and are also too similar to other themes explored in the album. One of the most complex and intriguing songs on the album is “Junkyard.” It’s a gritty story about a child who lives with an abusive father, the junkyard man. This father is very abusive and controlling of not just the child, but the mother too. By the end of the song the child has had enough and murders the father with a knife. It’s an intense song and tells a great story. The part where the child has had enough in the song the electric guitars kicks it up a notch, signifying the shift in attitude brilliantly. This is one of the few moments on the album where Zac Brown Band tries something different and it works well.

“I’ll Be Your Man” (Song For A Daughter) is a song that is sung from the point of view of a father to his daughter. He sings about how he will always protect her and be there for her. For fathers listening to this song, you’ll connect really well with this song. For the rest, it’s a decent song. It could’ve been better, but it stretches on entirely too long and the addition of a choir towards the end is not needed. Once again it’s an overproduced song. The penultimate song on the album is “Wildfire.” It should be noted that Brown co-wrote this song with Eric Church, Clay Cook, Wyatt Durrette and Liz Rose. It’s once again a love song with laundry list lyrics. The instrumentation is pretty good, but I think the production is a little overdone. If that’s stripped back a little, this song sounds better. I’m baffled again too how fluffy the lyrics are and I’m left wanting something more.

Now I want to talk about producer Jay Joyce. When I saw fellow critic Mark Grondin of Spectrum Pulse point this out, I immediately realized why I had such a conflicted feeling about this album and why I don’t love it. For those unaware of Joyce’s track record, he was the producer behind Eric Church’s 2014 release The Outsiders, Little Big Town’s Pain Killer and Halestorm’s newly released album Into The Wildlife. You know what all of those albums had in common for me? They were overproduced, underwhelming and pretty disappointing. I’m left with pretty much the same feeling with Zac Brown Band’s Jekyll + Hyde. It isn’t a coincidence that Joyce was behind each of these albums and I didn’t like them as much as I thought I would. He’s a huge problem and is a monster that needs to be stopped. Stop ruining music, Jay Joyce.

When it comes down to it this is probably one of the biggest disappointments in country music in 2015 for me. Zac Brown Band’s previous album Uncaged was one of my favorite country albums in the last five years. They could have easily expanded off of that album. Instead Brown brings Joyce aboard so he can muck up the sound of a great band. It was only the talent of the band where they were allowed to shine that saved this album from being a mediocre mess and make it something decent and somewhat listenable. Shame on Zac Brown for bringing Joyce into the fold and going all Bono on this album. For the first time ever I felt like the ego and business acumen of Zac Brown hurt the final product. Many Zac Brown Band fans and I’m sure many critics too will eat this album up, just like Church’s album and Little Big Town’s album. It will sell really well and do good on radio. But the cold hard truth is that there are a lot more albums that will outshine this one by far. Ultimately I will forget about Jekyll + Hyde and remember it as lackluster effort. For now I’m left disgusted, betrayed, confused and disappointed with this album.

Grade: 6/10

Album Review – William Clark Green’s ‘Ringling Road’


William Clark Green is one of Texas’ fastest rising stars. His 2013 album, Rose Queen, yielded three top-ten singles for Green on the Texas country charts. Among those top-tens were two chart toppers, including the award-winning “She Likes the Beatles.” The album prior to Rose Queen, 2010’s Misunderstood, sparked the fire for Green. And after Rose Queen’s success, people began calling William Clark Green the next big thing in Texas Country. The 28-year-old singer-songwriter doesn’t quite feel the same way, but the hype surrounding him doesn’t crack his focus. Green reunites with producer Rachel Loy and brings in a few extra guitar players to the recording session for his fourth studio album, Ringling Road. And the result of this fire power is an album that could add more fuel to William Clark Green’s blaze across the Lone Star State and beyond.

Ringling Road starts off with the autobiographical “Next Big Thing.” Here, Green address the hype head on, addressing his hardships of life on the road and still having no money, despite all this critical hype. “The next big thing, what’s that mean? Oh it’s hard to pay your dues when there ain’t no money in the bank. It’s a shame. I got to make to the show but there ain’t no gas in the tank.” There’s a heavy rock production to song, but it’s not as if Green is angry about the hype of his career. With that said though, that’s the type of songwriting you get from William Clark Green: brutal honesty in every situation. “Sticks and Stones” deals with small town gossip. The townsfolk spread rumors about Green and his life on the road, but their words don’t bother him because they’re “nothing but sticks and stones.” The upbeat, roots rocking production drive the song to quick end.

“Creek Don’t Rise” is the most country offering on the whole album. The songwriting here is sharp. The relationship has hit some rough patches, but they’re determined to get through it tonight, if the Lord wills it and the flood of a rising creek doesn’t interfere. The fiddle up front on the melody is a great touch on this two-stepping country jam. Up next is the polarizing title track. “Ringling Road” describes the dysfunctional circus in town: cocaine-addicted trapeze artists, the drunk clown, and the love triangle between the snake charmer, human cannon ball and tattooed man. William Clark Green really does describe a freak show in the truest sense. “Ringling Road” sits as an outlier track in an album of heartbreak tunes, small town life, and life on the road; and you’ll either love or hate this rocking, entertaining freak show song.

“Final This Time” hits you like a brick. In this heartbreaker, Green sings with the tune’s co-writer, Dani Flowers, about a relationship that’s hopefully done for good. The guitar is heavy and moody, a harmonica chimes in, and you can hear the agony in both of their voices as they plead for the end to stick. Flowers’ addition for the female role in the song is a great touch. The song moves slowly, but the development pays off as the pleas turn desperate. On “Fool Me Once” William Clark Green tells of a lonely man who jumps from woman to woman night after night. He doesn’t want to keep waking up alone, so he begs this woman to fool him once. Even if she’s lying, he wants to believe she loves him just to give him some temporary comfort.

“Sympathy” is the current single from the album, and shines as one of the top tracks. His ex-lover just got her own heart-broken by another man. Seeing her in pain brings Green some delight, and he’s not going to sympathize since she made him feel the same way. The song moves nicely between acoustic verses and rocking, anthemic choruses. “Sympathy” is more rock than country, but lyrically the song gets the karma point across without being brash or evil in its story. “Hey Sarah” carries a steel guitar in the production. The song is about getting over Sarah after the relationship ended. Whether it’s in a bar, in the arms of another woman, or at church, Green is determined to get over her.

On “Old Fashioned” William Clark Green takes the stage to complain about simpler times and ways of life disappearing. It begins as a nice sentiment with great imagery of how Austin is becoming like LA. “The interstate’s pumping just like a vein full of California license plates.” However, as the song progresses, Green becomes angrier with the way things have become and quite frankly, he gets rather preachy with his message. “Going Home” is about being excited about getting back home after being out on the road. He’s looking forward to seeing his love again, spending time with her in the bedroom, and simply just reuniting. There’s a light country/rock melody to the production that fits nicely with the lyrics. Finally, William Clark Green hits you hard with another heartbreaker to end the album. “Still Think About You” is as honest as someone can be in a song. He screwed up the relationship and knows it. He knows he may have led her on and is sorry that she “fell in love with someone you could never inspire.” It’s heartbreaking as he details how they first met to the eventual break up. The accompanying piano adds to the emotional brick of the song.

Even with the title track addressing the issue, Ringling Road is an album that won’t quiet the praises and hype of William Clark Green. He is a skilled singer and songwriter who conveys the emotion of the story perfectly. His voice, his lyrics, and the production of the songs work great in conjunction to create a mood that sticks with you. Ringling Road may be more southern rock than actual country, but the 11 tracks all come from the same roots. There’s a reason why William Clark Green has the praise he does, and Ringling Road could very well be the final push for the breakthrough his supporters have hyped up for the past couple of years.

Grade: 8/10